New York Yankees‘ Ace Masahiro Tanaka is coming off his second scoreless spring outing in a row, proving his elbow issues are in the past. 

By Christian Kouroupakis

Tanaka shined in three scoreless innings (40 pitches), in his second and longest outing of the spring allowing just one hit (one little infield single) against the Orioles.

The best part about his outing: he made it look quite easy and is in line to get the Opening Day nod on April 4 in the Bronx, barring injury.

Wait, I may have lied. The best part is that the Yankees’ $155 million dollar investment hardly looks like he just had off-season elbow surgery, and is pitching like the man New York invested in.

On Friday, Tanaka had a healthy mix of curve balls and his split finger while earned praise from catcher Brian McCann on getting quality extension on the mound.

“He looks like he’s getting good extension on his pitches,” McCann told Brian Hoch of MLB.com. “He’s able to go glove side, which is probably the hardest thing to get extended on. He’s doing it fine. I wouldn’t even be able to tell if I didn’t know (he had surgery).”

“I feel that I’m exactly where I need to be at,” Tanaka also told Brian Hoch of MLB.com. “If I compare with my first year and my second year right around this time, I think I’m exactly where I was in the previous two Spring Trainings.”

As everyone knows, Tanaka suffered a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in 2013, and chose against Tommy John Surgery. In fact, a number of orthopedic surgeons recommended that he avoid the operation. As a result, it has given his elbow the nickname “ticking time bomb” and everyone is ready for it to detonate at any given moment.

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Fast forward to 2015, following the Yankees loss in the American League Wild Card game to the Houston Astros, Tanaka opted to remove bone spur from the elbow, raising even more uncertainty. But then he gets to Tampa to prepare for 2016.

Numerous bullpen sessions, simulated games, and two starts later there is little to no evidence that the elbow was worked on this past off-season.

“He’s throwing the ball great,” McCann told Pete Caldera of the Record. “He doesn’t seem to have any problems. So, I think he feels really good.”

Masahiro Tanaka is without a doubt the key to the rotation’s success. The fact that he’s looking healthy and dominant this Spring Training should have every fan optimistic. However, New York’s starting rotation this season can carry the team, or it could prove to be devastating.

From veterans to youngsters, the Yankees have put together a diverse staff of talented arms that have tasted major success, along with nagging injuries. Without a doubt this group will be able to taste that success again, but the uncertainty is discouraging.

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Can CC Sabathia turn around his dismal 2015 campaign? Will Nathan Eovaldi have an even better second year in New York? Can Luis Severino avoid a sophomore slump? And could Michael Pineda look like an ace once every five days instead of once every month?

The team ranked in the lower half in terms of innings pitched, but they turned in extravagant performances when they took the mound.

Pineda had a 4.37 xFIP in 2015 which was the 4th best in the American League and Tanaka ranked 8th best with a 3.51 xFIP (according to baseball reference). Eovaldi had the highest average fastball velocity in the majors aside from Noah Syndergaard, with a fastball that averages 96.6 MPH (according to FanGraphs). With the help of his splitter, he was able to manage a 2.93 ERA over his final 12 starts.

The talent, is there and it’s undeniable. However, the spot line will shine on how often that talent will take the mound. One things for sure, Masahiro Tanaka’s healthy start is a very optimistic start for the New York Yankees as they chase their 28th World Series title.

NEXT: Bombers will be fine with no Aroldis Chapman

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